Incentives, Threats and Bribes for Doing Things My Way

“I’ll give you a snack if you get in the car.”

“Come to the dinner table or there won’t be a bed time snack.”

“Stop whining or you can get your pajamas on and get ready for bed.”

Anyone with little kids will tell you the power of bribes and threats. After all, there are certain things we must do in life:  work, eat, sleep and brush your teeth for starters. Incentives, threats and bribes help the family system move forward to achieving these goals.

There are even times where I am so fed up with my four-year-old’s whining that I ride the fear-inducing edge of an undefined threat, such as “I’m going to count to five, and if I get there, you’ll be sorry.”

This is a healthy amount of fear to get my pre-school aged son to obey, but does the delivery of such stern fear plant resentments in him? I don’t think so. Real young children are the closest thing to God there is, so loving and forgiving.

My goal as a father is to support my children’s development, so they can go out into the world with a strong foundation and stay true to themselves.

Most likely they will stray a little. Isn’t that human nature? Isn’t that the story from the beginning, from Genesis’ Garden of Eden? God lays out his suggestions, and we have to experiment with our own free will. At least, that’s what I had to do. Eventually, I came around and surrendered to His will.

As far as being a father to young children, they are already tuning me out and excising their own decisions-making. The only thing I can do is guide and model my behavior that I work to align with God’s will. Guide, model, reward and bribe.

I believe trust builds trust, so when I ask my son if he brushed his teeth and he says yes, I believe him. Even if I know he didn’t brush (I didn’t hear the water run and he never even set foot in the bathroom), I will say okay, I believe you. It’s usually only a minute or two until he admits he was “just joking” and didn’t actually brush hist teeth.

His inner guidance led him to the truth. There was no need for me to threaten or bribe.

The Free Range Kids movement has merit in my eyes because it puts kids in drivers seat, as long as they are developmentally ready. If my son and daughter are self-reliant, they can make decisions that are responsible, or at least appropriate for their age, and I don’t have to be the helicopter parent.

Lately I’ve been asking myself how these bribes and threats support self-reliance. Yes, honor thy mother and father, but shouldn’t the mother and father help build decision-making skills? Maybe it’s not quite time for my kids–at the ages of four years and four months–to walk home from the park on their own, but who’s to say my son can’t pick up his crayons after a color session on his own.

There is something to be said about positive reinforcement, rather than discipline. So as positive reinforcement, he will get a little extra treat for snack time.




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